Saturday 20 October 2018

When it all goes pear-shaped

The news that the Nationalist party is in such dire economic straits that it is unable to pay its own employees this month is something which anyone who has been in the same position can relate to with empathy.

Anyone who has had the carpet pulled out from under their feet with the news that their financial security is at risk, knows what it feels like to have that  sick feeling in the pit of their stomach.  Suddenly, everything they took for granted becomes a question mark, and any plans they might have had for the future are thrown out the window.

How did the PN end up like this?  The most obvious reason is that it lost its financial backing from top businessmen (who seem to have migrated to Labour instead, at least for now). But this kind of situation does not happen overnight and it certainly does not happen because there weren’t enough recent donations.   After all, should staff on a political party’s payroll depend solely on telethon fundraisers to get their salaries?    Are political party TV and radio stations  financially viable any more or are they simply a drain on already stretched resources ?

Of course, party financing is an issue which needs to be looked into in-depth especially in the light of the Big Money spent during this election campaign. It has been on the backburner long enough and we will see if the Labour party actually does something about it now that it is in government.

But meanwhile, it would seem that the economic shambles of the PN is a reflection of the internal shambles within the party itself – and in both cases, the problem seems to be utter mismanagement.  Indeed, as different names keep popping out of the woodwork to take over the leadership, the very ethos of the party seems to be in question.

There is such a feeling of déjà vu in all this – I remember writing about the complete mess which the Labour party was in after Alfred Sant finally accepted the inevitable and resigned. At that time the PL too was flailing about, pointing fingers at everyone and anyone for why it kept losing one election after another. There were moments when it seemed like it was going to combust and fragment into many different factions. It was only until the party shut up and started doing some very honest soul searching that it started to very slowly heal its wounds. The moment of  truth probably came about when people at the very heart of the PL started to admit that the deepest of the wounds had been self-inflicted. Only then could it really start to rebuild itself.

Today, as I read comments online by diehard Nationalist activists, it is clear that the PN is going through a similar process.  While there are some who are still in complete denial about why their party lost (blaming “selfish” voters, labeling people as “ungrateful” turncoats, blaming The Times for “turning pro-Labour”, and so on) others seem to have finally woken up from their deep stupor and are beginning to voice what others have been saying for a long time.  The list of PN politicians who are now all openly acknowledging what went wrong keeps getting longer.

It really is not rocket science, you know. The crux of the matter is this: No political party should ever feel a sense of entitlement that it is there to govern forever. Just because voters have trusted you in the past, seeing you as the better choice, does not mean you can take that trust and spit on it, in the smug belief that you will always be seen as the better choice. (Here of course, is where Labour better be careful – it is easy to become very smug after such a huge landslide, but I think it has been made patently obvious in this election that there is a large chunk of voters out there who do not owe their allegiance to any party and who will tear you down as quickly as they lifted you up).

I realise that there are PN supporters who genuinely do not understand what is meant by the accusation that members of the Gonzi administration had become insufferably arrogant. Well, when you think that your perch on the pedestal cannot and should not be toppled, that’s arrogance.  When you start thinking in terms of votes as a way for people to show their gratitude simply because you did what you are paid to do, well yes, that’s arrogance. But more specifically, the arrogance was manifested by some incredibly greedy people (who were not necessarily politicians but had the right political connections) who did very well for themselves under that administration and kept wanting more and more.

There is another slippery slope which befalls governments that hang on to power too long: when it comes to a point that even constructive criticism from your own party members is viewed as treachery, then that is the sign that something is deeply wrong.

When your own sympathizers decide to keep their thoughts to themselves for fear of an ugly backlash, then alarm bells should ring.  Politicians (much like managers of a company) who surround themselves with Yes Men who only tell them what they want to hear, rather than the truth, are doomed to failure.

I think in this country we really have not reached that stage where criticism can be accepted for what it is – calling a spade a spade. Many seem uncomfortable with pointing out when something is patently wrong no matter which party does it – they have to check who said it or who did it first before pronouncing themselves. “My party do or die” is still the most common mantra, which is why we ended up where we did in the first place.

Those who were terrified to criticize Mintoff made it possible for him to implement some pretty harebrained ideas. Similarly,  because of  those who dared not voice their concerns under the PN administration for fear of being accused of betrayal (or even worse, labeled “Labour”), it meant that the country was dragged through a year of uncertainty followed by a needlessly long campaign, when a snap election (we have now been told) would have produced pretty much the same result.





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